We all want to keep our hearts in tip-top shape. However, this is often easier to think about than to actually put into practice. A heart-healthy diet can be a huge lifestyle change for many people, especially in a fast-paced world where meal planning can be a luxury or a chore. There are certain healthy foods for your heart that you should consider as well as things to avoid eating.
Figuring out the best way to consume healthy foods for your heart is also no easy task. Luckily, we have compiled a list of things to limit as well as a list of healthy foods for your heart that you can start incorporating right away.
Healthy Foods for Your Heart
The following foods will support your heart and keep it healthy for years to come with a little discipline and a lot of dedication to changing your lifestyle for the better.
1. Stick to Whole Grains
Whole grains deliver both soluble and insoluble fiber. The combination lowers LDL (bad cholesterol) and supports a healthy heart. The American Heart Association agrees that whole grains can help significantly lower your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, or stroke. Since whole grains help you feel fuller longer, they are also a great way to lower obesity levels along with a balanced diet and exercise.
2. Add Seeds and Nuts
Nuts and seeds contain healthy fats and fatty acids that support both your heart and your brain, according to Dr. Lisa Young. These fats are both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, which means they will break down at different rates in your body and deliver slightly different benefits depending on what kind of nuts or seed you are eating.
3. Eat More Fish
The Mayo Clinic has established that fish can help prevent heart attack and heart disease. They also pose to those concerned about mercury that the benefits of the omega fatty acids far outweigh the risks of the mercury content found in most fish.
Eating fish at least once or twice per week is known to decrease triglycerides, lower blood pressure, reduce blood clot risks, improve irregular heartbeats, and lower your risk of stroke and heart failure. While most seafood will have provided these benefits, the following fish are recommended based on their fat content:
4. Eat More Fruit and Vegetables
The British Dietetic Association observes that fruits and vegetables contain chemicals that help lower LDL (bad cholesterol) when consumed as part of your regular diet. They also provide fiber and vitamins necessary for proper antioxidant levels in your system.
Frozen, canned, and even dried fruits and vegetables can be consumed with positive effects on heart health. The recommendation is 5 or more servings of vegetables. But how much is a serving? One serving of veggies can be viewed in the following ways:
- three tablespoons;
- a dessert bowl;
- two small fruits such as plums or apricots, or one larger fruit like an orange or a peach;
- a handful of small berries or dried fruit.
5. Bring on the Beans
Dark beans like kidney or black beans provide a good dose of fiber. This fiber helps lower bad cholesterol just like the fiber found in whole grains discussed earlier. Be careful when preparing beans not to add too much salt. This includes being wary of sauces and spice mixes.
6. Indulge in a Little Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate that is at least 70% cacao is known to possess antioxidants that will keep your heart healthy. As long as you have just a small amount on occasion, you will reduce inflammation which is an important part of keeping your heart healthy.
7. Drink a Glass of Red Wine
The last of the healthy foods for your heart, red wine can be consumed in moderation as part of a heart-healthy diet. Men can have two glasses per day, while women should stick to one glass. Keep in mind that wine is not appropriate for everyone. Check with your doctor to make sure you are healthy enough for red wine.
Things to Avoid
We have discussed what to eat but we should also talk about certain things you should limit or avoid altogether when making changes to your diet: vitamins, sugar, and salt.
1. Limit Salt
Salt raises your blood pressure and puts you at a higher risk for stroke and heart attacks. Limiting salt helps keep your bloodstreams flowing smoothly. This will help all of the other nutrients you are consuming get to the parts of your body that need them the most.
The American Heart Association recommends that healthy adults eat between 1,500-2,300 milligrams of salt per day. The lower the number, the better it is for reducing your heart disease risk.
2. Limit Sugar
The current recommended sugar intake for adults is 30 grams or less. For reference, the average soda pop contains more than double that amount. Getting as close to 30 grams per day as possible will help lower your risk for type 2 diabetes and in turn, will reduce your risk for heart problems later on.
3. A Word on Vitamins
While they are very popular, most experts agree that food supplements just don’t break down the same way in the body that nutrients from food do. While you can certainly add in a supplement or multi-vitamin to get more of the nutrients described below, you should still aim to get those things from the foods you eat naturally for the best results.
Putting It All Together
The tips above will get you started on a heart-healthy diet. The list of healthy foods for your heart goes on, but these guidelines are small changes you can make gradually over time. As with any lifestyle change, be patient with yourself and expect to make mistakes along the way.
If you are worried about your heart health, you should check with your doctor before making any major changes to your diet or lifestyle. Your doctor can also make suggestions on which healthy foods for your heart will benefit you the most based on your health and lifestyle.
Share your favorite healthy foods for your heart in the comments below. Let us know your favorites or any new foods you think our readers should know about.